Weekly Wire
NewCityNet 'Pretty' Good

By Ben Winters

JUNE 12, 2000: 

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (Little, Brown) $22.95; 275 pages

Wanna know how much of a geek I am? When I got the advance proofs of David Sedaris' "Me Talk Pretty One Day," back in March, I was so excited I put it away immediately--so I could prolong my anticipation a little bit longer. I pulled it out a couple of times over the next two months, teased myself (cheated?) by flipping open to a random page and reading a couple of lines, then slammed it shut, determined to wait until I had an entire Sunday free so that I could savor the whole thing in one sitting.

Could anything live up to that kind of expectation?

Probably not. But I was absolutely delighted with the beginnings of the sharp-witted (mean, you might call him; or, to borrow from Amazon.com, "darkly playful") essayist's fourth published collection. I laughed out loud at "Giant Dreams, Midget Abilities," in which a young David, victim to his father's fantastical whims, is forced to take guitar lessons from "an honest-to-God midget" who encourages him to name his guitar after a girl so "you can't keep your hands off of her" (though Sedaris wants to call it Oliver). There is the wickedly funny "You Can't Kill The Rooster," in which Sedaris reveals his younger brother to be a hardcore rap-loving good ol' Southern boy who gave himself a fowl nickname and is prone to goodnaturedly telling their father, in a femme voice no less, "Bitch, you need to have them ugly-ass bunions shaved down is what you need to do. But you can't do shit about it tonight, so listen up, motherfucker."

Like much of Sedaris' canon, these stories focus on his family in a way that is at once simultaneously devilishly hilarious and almost sweetly sentimental, and, as always, leaves you to wonder, How much of it is the writer and how much is the material?

When he is not just telling a story, but also weaving in a prissy, curmudgeonly rant, it can hit ("Today's Special," a tirade against pretentious food: "I'd order the skirt steak with a medley of suffocated peaches, but I'm put off by the aspirin sauce... What I really want is a cigarette, and I'm always searching the menu in the hope that some courageous young chef has finally recognized tobacco as a vegetable.") or miss (a too-long technophobic jag about the evils of computers, which sounds so familiar as to have been spouted by Andy Rooney).

The second half of the book, "Deux," however, is... I don't want to say it, but a bona fide disappointment. For the most part ramblings on Sedaris' recent life in France, it is nothing you haven't heard before--those crazy Frenchies, they just leave their dog shit on the ground! And, boy, isn't their language goofy?

Maybe it's the dog shit, maybe it's the snails, but something about life in France seems to have filed down Sedaris' edge. Or maybe he's just out of stories--although I can't remember where, I know I've read the final story about his dad hoarding food (perhaps the biggest disappointment at all: the climax is a rerun!). Just to be safe, I'd like to suggest a ban on free trade with France--in this case, we're getting the raw end of the deal.


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